A teacher’s background – as someone who struggled in school – deepens her connection with alternative education students

I’m a teacher, but I was also “that student”

A teacher’s background – as someone who struggled in school – deepens her connection with alternative education students

This fall, I will return to the classroom for my second year teaching English at Philadelphia’s Excel Academy South, an accelerated high school experience for students seeking a smaller, more personal setting, intensely focused on elevating social skills, emotional wellness, and academic success. 

My colleagues and I are committed to helping students succeed by developing meaningful relationships with each of them, therefore understanding their individual needs, challenges, and strengths. When students feel safe and valued, they become empowered to take charge of their education and future. They begin to fulfill their learning potential. 

It was during my interview with the director and two other administrators at Excel Academy South that I recognized something deeply familiar in so many of their students: It was my younger self. 

Growing up, an unsteady family life meant that I frequently moved from school to school, and such an upbringing left me with no desire to focus on schoolwork, feeling like a failure because I lacked the foundation a consistent education would have given me. In fact, by the time I reached my junior year of high school, I moved from New York to New Jersey and back to New York in a span of only eight weeks.

As someone who already had a strong disdain for school, being told by administrators I would need to repeat 11th grade made me feel absolutely despondent. It also made me do something about it, as there was no way I was staying in school for an additional year.  

In that moment, I began forging my own educational path. I opted to leave the traditional high school setting and registered late for a 12-week program to help prepare me for the General Education Development (GED) Test.  

Despite having only seven weeks to study for the exam, I passed with flying colors. My struggle in school, like many of my own students today, wasn’t about intelligence or knowledge. It was about the outside world. Extenuating circumstances, from an unstable home life to community violence, can impact why attending school regularly is challenging or less of a priority than helping ensure the rent is paid.  

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